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Tag Archives: Film Noir

Gilda (1946)

3505-1946-gilda-usa-6074169550I might have to re-watch Gilda, because when I watched it last week I was so busy trying to figure it out that I didn’t give myself any space to enjoy it. But it was so different from what I was expecting; it’s like two movies blended together.

Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) is a scrappy gambler, drifting in Argentina during WWII (the fact that he isn’t at war says something about his character already – practically every American male of his age was in uniform at the time). He is nearly mugged, but is rescued by Ballin Mundson (George Macready), a wealthy and mysterious man who runs a casino. After Johnny visits the casino and gets caught out in a little cheating, he convinces Ballin to hire him and works his way up to become Ballin’s right-hand man.

Johnny thinks he’s got a good thing going and is extraordinarily loyal to Ballin, but his world is upset when Ballin returns from a trip with a wife, Gilda (Rita Hayworth). Johnny and Gilda used to know each other very well and she immediately sets out to torment Johnny and make him jealous. To make things worse, Ballin has a few things up his sleeve that he is not telling Johnny, like certain dealings with ex-Nazis (WWII is now over). There is also a policeman (Joseph Calleia), who is watching Ballin.

In relation to Gilda, I had most often heard that it was about the intensely heated love-hate relationship between Johnny and Gilda. As Gilda tells Johnny at one point, “I hate you so much; I think I’m going to die from it.” Johnny likewise is always telling her and Ballin that he hates her. Why? This isn’t clear. Evidently they had an affair, but he abandoned her. It made my sister think of the story in the Bible (2 Samuel 13) where Amnon rapes his half-sister, Tamar, and than hates her for it. But it’s clear that Gilda is still crazy about Johnny.

George Macready. Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford

George Macready. Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford

But this isn’t what the first half of the movie is about. This is dealt with in the second half. In the first half, Johnny seems to have a huge hero-worship/crush on Ballin. He even has a key to Ballin’s house, which he returns when Ballin unexpectedly marries. He thinks Ballin tells him everything and seems just as hurt that Ballin married as he does that Gilda is trying to make him jealous. He never questions Ballin’s highly questionable ethics and goes out of his way to spare Ballin any concern over Gilda, who is definitely not being faithful to him. He even admires Ballin’s pseudo-fascist purpose of ruling the world and does everything to protect him from the police and others.

I think Johnny’s trying to be Ballin. After Ballin supposedly dies (he fakes his death), Johnny takes over the business, including the business with the ex-Nazis. The thing is, he’s really in over his head and he doesn’t know it. He doesn’t have Ballin’s sagacity or knowledge or education. He’s just a scrappy guy who knows how to get by in life. It’s not even clear he fully understands what kind of a man Ballin is; what the consequences really would be if Ballin succeeds in his (somewhat fuzzy) goals. For a while, I thought the film was going to be about how Johnny tries be like Ballin and discovers how far short he comes.

But the film never develops any of this. Instead, it turns to the relationship between Johnny and Gilda. After Ballin supposedly dies, Johnny marries Gilda. It’s clear she always loved him and thinks their going to be happy now, but Johnny rather cruelly marries her just so he can control her. He stays completely away from her and uses his power and men to prevent her from going out with other men (her main means of getting back at people), even having her followed everywhere. He puts a picture of Ballin in their house, which she considers in bad taste (not “decent,” is the word she uses, which he uses to mock her with, since she is not “decent”).

So, why is he doing this? Supposedly because he was driven crazy by her infidelities. He’s certainly obsessed with the fact that she’s a tramp. But Johnny says (in a voice-over) that he’s doing it to make her faithful to Ballin in death, even if she couldn’t be faithful to him when he was alive. Before Ballin’s supposed death, Ballin saw Johnny and Gilda making out, so perhaps Johnny feels like he betrayed Ballin, too.

looking far happier than they ever do in the film

looking far happier than they ever do in the film

Unfortunately, I thought the ending of the film was kind of a fizzle. Johnny has gotten himself in so deep, trying to run Ballin’s business, and goes too far in his persecution of Gilda. And he gets of scot-free. He never seems to have to face up to the enormity of what he’s done, what kind of a man Ballin really is, or how cruelly he’s used Gilda. She even tries to leave him and get a divorce, only to have him use another man to trick her into coming back, where he refuses her the divorce. She’s on her knees begging him to let her go and I almost hated him. But instead, the policeman fixes everything and Johnny faces no consequences and the policeman even manages to fix up Johnny’s love life with Gilda so that they can be together. It even turns out that Gilda was never really cheating on him or Ballin at all – that was just an act to make him jealous.

It seemed to take all the steam out of the story. The script turns Ballin into a slightly deranged, jealous husband at the end, instead of the cool and calculating man he always was before. Ballin is an interesting character. He tells Johnny that he’s “mad about” Gilda, but it’s hard to see that he really is. He seems to go out of his way to make Johnny and Gilda spend time together, even though he knows instantly that the two of them have a past. He even makes Gilda his heir and Johnny the executor of his will, ensuring they will continue to spent time together. He’s like a puppet-master, always watching them. He also seems to frequently be shot in shadows or be off screen entirely (in one shot, his head is cut off by the camera), though we hear his voice. The camera will be fixed on Johnny or Gilda, but we hear his cold voice interrogating them, like a god who’s slightly amused by the doings of the little people.

By far the most sympathetic person in the story is Gilda. I’ve heard her role described as that of a femme fatale, but most of the time she’s being controlled or abused by the men in the story. I don’t think she makes a very convincing hardcore femme fatale anyway (like in Blood and Sand, she just doesn’t have the steel her soul like Barbara Stanwyck and others), but she does vulnerable and broken extremely well and as Gilda, she had all my sympathy. Even the famously sexy dance, “Put the Blame on Mame,” where she does the tantalizing strip tease while removing only one glove, is still a performance filled with pathos, because she wants to hurt Johnny so much that she’s willing to expose herself as a tramp to do it.

tumblr_mdaih2KMet1r0rezxo1_1280She seems to be looking for a man she can trust. After she flees Johnny, she finds another man who purports to love her and says he can help her get a divorce and will take care of her. The relief on her face as she talks about how she thought she could never trust a man again is so sad, because we know the man is employed by Johnny. At this point I was rooting so hard for Johnny and Gilda not to get back together at the end. I was hoping that Johnny would get taken down and be revealed as “the peasant” that the janitor, Uncle Pio (Steven Geray) always said he was. Incidentally, Uncle Pio seems to be the only person Gilda can act normally with. She smiles, thanks him and generally seems relaxed, like she’s not putting on the act she is always playing for Ballin and Johnny.

It’s a sensational performance by Rita Hayworth, one of the best I’ve seen her give. But because of the ending, I was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

Below is a clip of Hayworth performing “Put the Blame on Mame,” though that is not her singing.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2016 in Movies

 

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Double Indemnity: Rivalry and Shakespeare

Edward-G-Robinson-%26-Fred-MacMurray-in-Double-Indemnity-1944-Premium-Photograph-and-Poster-1019454__96948.1432423378.220.290Last week I watched Double Indemnity with my good friend, Andrea. Double Indemnity might actually be my favorite film of all time, so I am always burbling away happily about the film and referencing it, but Andrea does not generally watch murderous stories. But I spoke of it so often, she was curious and after I sent her a few clips from the film, she was even more curious, so finally we decided to watch it. In turn, I was exceedingly curious to know what she would think. She has kindly given me permission to quote her extensively (or paraphrase, somewhat).

Her reaction? She liked the dialogue, which she found poetic (a word that would not have occurred to me to use in reference to a film noir, but she’s right about it – there is a cadence and rhythm and poetry to it). She also didn’t mind at all about the murder, because, she observed, the movie isn’t really about the murder. Instead, she compared Double Indemnity to a Shakespeare tragedy and “Macbeth,” (I once read someone describe “Macbeth” as the film noir of Shakespeare) with a frail man striving to achieve something great and failing spectacularly.

But what is it that Walter Neff is trying to achieve? I put it down to “money and…for a woman,” but Andrea has a unique perspective that changes the dynamics of how one views the film.

She sees the story as essentially a rivalry between Walter Neff and Barton Keyes. As she observed, Keyes often belittles Neff’s job as an insurance salesman as a “peddler” and a “backslapper” and wants Neff to work with him as a claim’s manager, where it takes “brains.” And Keyes is the acknowledged brains, almost a colossus, a titan of brilliance and human insight. But, as Andrea points out, Walter already considers himself a smart man, quick on his feet, good at his work. He admires Keyes, he is a friend of Keyes, but he also subconsciously wants to best him and to work with Keyes in claims management would not only be a cut in salary, but would also make him subordinate to Keyes.

In that respect, he was ripe for a Phyllis Dietrichson to come along and give him a reason to match wits with Keyes. He tells Keyes in his memorandum voice-over that it was something he’d already been thinking about; how he could con the insurance agency because he’s inside the system and knows how it works. It’s basically a game to him, which is why he gets so uncomfortable every time he’s around Lola. She reminds him that murder is not a game. But this mentality of trying to pit wits against Keyes also causes him to underestimate Phyllis. She’s not playing a game, either.

Annex - Robinson, Edward G. (Double Indemnity)_NRFPT_01Andrea also noticed that after Keyes figures everything out (he can’t prove it yet, but he’s figured out how it was worked) Walter suddenly wants to pull out and tells Phyllis so. The money and lust for Phyllis isn’t really enough to keep him going. It was the rivalry with Keyes. But of course Phyllis has no intention of pulling out and threatens to take him down if he doesn’t go through with it. I used to assume it was fright that made Walter suddenly lose his nerve; he doesn’t have the psychopathic nerves of steel that Phyllis has. But Andrea has another theory. Walter loses his nerve because he’s lost the game. He’s lost his main reason for committing a murder. It is now clear that Keyes is smarter than Walter, he has figured it all out. The game is over and Walter is now stuck in a very awkward situation that could get him executed. But Phyllis has no intention of letting him out so easily.

Ironically enough, Walter fails because he is weak, both too moral and not moral enough. He can kill a man, but goes soft concerning Lola. He is caught between two titans of strength, who are strong because of their extremes of good and evil. In contrast, Walter is just a man, with the usual mix of good and bad impulses. If he’d been like Phyllis, then they might have been able to wait Keyes out, who didn’t really have any proof. But, as Andrea says, he’s just playing a game and when the game is over, he no longer has the will to try to outlast Keyes.

I still wonder – assuming Walter had been more hardcore – if Keyes could have exposed Phyllis. I’m not sure that he could. She would never crack under police pressure or under pressure from a lawyer and I’m sure would make a very good impression on the witness stand. Walter is the weak link for her. The poor guy is just too human.

I want to thank Andrea for giving me leave to write about her ideas and for giving me a whole new perspective on the film!

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2016 in Movies

 

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Black Angel (1946)

black-angelAny woman who has Dan Duryea and Peter Lorre calling on her at her apartment on the same evening is in trouble. Or at least that’s what I thought at first. The woman actually is the one who turns out to be trouble in this twisty, oddly romantic noir. Not that the woman lasts very long.

Martin Blair (Dan Duryea) is a composer who cannot get over his estranged wife, singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling). He tries to see her on their anniversary and she won’t even let him up to her apartment, though a mysterious man (Peter Lorre) is allowed up. Martin Blair retreats to a bar to drown his sorrows and play on the piano the song he wrote for her, “Heartbreak.”

Later, yet a third man, Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), enters her apartment and finds her dead, strangled with her own scarf. He is accused of the crime and sentenced to death. His wife, however, refuses to give up and sets out prove his innocence. Her search leads her first to Martin Blair, who is very hung-over.

But after a rocky first meeting, Catherine Bennett (June Vincent) piques his interest with her sympathy and with the story she tells him of the missing brooch. Kirk Bennett claimed to the police that when he entered the apartment, Mavis Marlowe was wearing a ruby, heart-shaped brooch. But as he searched the apartment he realized that he was not alone and someone stole the brooch. The police don’t believe his story, but Martin knows that he had, in fact, sent that brooch to Mavis that evening to try to remind her of his love for her.

Cathy and Martin soon go after Peter Lorre’s character, nightclub owner Marko. They form a team – Carver and Martin – with her singing and he playing the piano (and writing her songs) so they can audition for Marko’s floor show and get closer to him and his safe (where they believe some letters from Mavis are). And all the while Martin falls hard for Cathy, staying away from alcohol and even writing a song for her. But for Cathy there is still only Kirk Bennett.

For being a film noir, the music (composed by Frank Skinner) is surprisingly romantic and the romantic songs (written by Edgar Fairchild and Jack Brooks) feature prominently, with June Vincent singing a couple songs (I’m assuming she is not doing her own singing, though I don’t really know – I tend to doubt unless I hear otherwise). It’s tragic romantic. Martin Blair is a troubled man who can’t handle his love, which seems to overpower him and drive him helplessly to destroy himself. He’s self-destructive, but adores Cathy. He believes she owes nothing to Kirk and wants her to leave him. He has a way of giving his heart away wholesale, without checking to see the woman wants it or not.

Since this is Dan Duryea, I kept expecting him to verge over into creepy obsessive love for Cathy, but he never does…though one feels it’s in him. This is, after all, the man who played the possessive husband of Yvonne De Carlo in Criss Cross who also, in his own way, loved his wife (even if he does shoot her). He makes a very convincing anti-hero, though. Someone you feel sorry for (though he repeatedly says he hates to be felt sorry for…perhaps because he knows he deserves it), but also know is disturbed, with his disappointed, romantic soul.

blackangelen1ul2June Vincent is okay as Cathy. She seemed to be sending mixed signals with her body language and face, as if she ought to be, by all rights, a femme fatale trying to seduce Martin instead of a desperate wife. And a very loyal one, which was slightly frustrating. Kirk Bennett cheated on her and seems rather bland and indifferent to her, but as she tells Martin, there is only one man for her and that there only ever is one man.

Peter Lorre elevates anything he’s in, though he does not get an especially large role. His character has a few unexpected sides to him, though. He’s willing to give a character a new shot at life – perhaps because that is what he’s currently trying to do for himself? He also manages some sly humor, which contrasts with his rather dim bouncer, Lucky (Freddie Steele).

Constance Dowling as Mavis Marlowe looks like trouble the moment the camera lays eyes on her – a very effective femme fatale and I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of her. And Broderick Crawford plays the detective who is just doing his job and has been made world-weary by it all. But the film primarily belongs to Dan Duryea and it is nice to see him in a leading role for a change.

The film is based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich is less known than other crime writers – like Hammett and Chandler – but is responsible for “Rear Window,” No Man of Her OwnPhantom Lady. There have been literally dozens of films based on his stories.

Black Angel is currently available on youtube.

Here is the trailer for Black Angel. I’m not sure the trailer really does give an idea of the story – trailers can be rather deceptive, even today.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2016 in Movies

 

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